Nonprofit that helps children needing specialized care holding fundraiser

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 29, 2013 at 9:12 PM

Kari’s Heart Foundation, the Johnson City-based nonprofit group that helps families across the region with children in need of specialized care at hospitals far from home, will host its biggest fundraiser of the year New Year’s Eve at Carnegie Hotel.

A James Bond-themed gala, “A License to Give,” will run from 7 p.m.-1 a.m. in the hotel’s banquet hall. The party will include a gourmet dinner and appetizers, live music by the Johnson City Hit Men, dancing, complimentary wine, a cash bar, and a champagne toast at midnight followed by more appetizers.

There will be people dressed as James Bond, Bond villains and Bond girls. And there will be a silent auction of gifts from some of the foundation’s most generous supporters, including the Carnegie, Grove Park Inn, Martha Washington Inn, General Morgan Inn and numerous area restaurants, spas and fitness centers.

A Les Baer pistol, a Rickenbacker electric guitar, Disney World hopper passes, Dollywood passes, a week’s stay at a beach house in South Carolina, a custom-designed Kari’s Heart Foundation necklace from Dempsey’s Jewelers, cosmetic laser products and services and more will all be up for bid.

But at the heart of the gala, there will be an opportunity for guests to help the foundation make it possible for local families to travel with their children for life-saving treatments at many of the leading pediatric care centers in the nation.

Since its founding in 2008, the foundation has helped a total of 650 of those families, including the family of Weston Keeton of Blountville, who recently received a heart and double lung transplant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Weston’s mother, Julie, who has spent most of the past two years with Weston in Philadelphia, told the Johnson City Press the day after his Dec. 12 transplant that Kari’s Heart Foundation not only made it possible for her to stay with Weston in Philadelphia but allowed his dad, Adam, to remain on the job here in Tennessee so the couple could maintain their home and Adam could travel back and forth to Philadelphia as needed.

Julie Keeton said the foundation has also been there to help their family in other ways — moral support, prayer and answers she could not find anywhere else.

Founded by Johnson City cardiologist Dr. Jeff Schoondyke and his wife Jennifer in honor of their infant daughter, Kari, who died from complications of congenital heart disease, the foundation was inspired by the support the Schoondykes received during Kari’s illness.

“After Kari’s birth we traveled for care and saw a lot of heartbreaking need and a lot of needs that are easily met,” Jennifer Schoondyke said. “We stayed in Philadelphia and we received a lot of support from friends. ... Every day when we opened our door we found another gift.

“As soon as we got home, Jeff started the paperwork. We got the 501c3 (for tax-exempt status) in October, and in November we held a thank-you party and announced (the foundation). Kari died in April 2009 and the foundation took off even more from there.

“From the beginning we have received many touching things, notes, cards, messages, many touching things that people did. Even now we still receive many touching things.

“I’ve learned that is the life of foundation, the wonderful things that people do. It’s nothing for Kari’s Heart to pay a month’s rent and utilities for a family. But we couldn’t do that without the support we have had from people.

“I do want to encourage people to make a difference and reach out just a little bit. Don’t wait to write that text or send that message. A text, a card, a message, just a small touch can make a huge difference. And of course, we want people to donate to Kari’s Heart too.”

Tickets to the New Year’s Eve gala are $85 and can be purchased online at www.KarisHeartFoundation.org.

More information about the foundation can also be found at the website or by calling 913-1171.

For announcements, updates and prayer requests from the families the foundation assists, visit the Kari’s Heart Foundation Facebook page.

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